For your complaint to be addressed, it must first be put in writing–whether in a letter and/or an email. Most likely, several letters and/or emails.
Even in our video-oriented society, the written word still carries far greater weight than the spoken one. A document can be used as evidence in a civil lawsuit.
If you cringe at writing it yourself, you can ask someone else to write it for you. But if s/he lacks excellent judgment and literary skills, you’ll be no better-off.
At best, the letter will prove ineffective and be ignored. At worst, it could open you to charges of libel and/or extortion.
And even if the person can write an effective letter on your behalf, chances are you’ll have to pay for that service.
If you decide to write the letter yourself, you’ll find highly effective advice in Shocked, Appalled, and Dismayed: How to Write Letters of Complaint That Get Results, by Ellen Phillips.
Among the subjects she covers–in detail–are:
- Who to write to, what to say, what to ask for.
- The names and addresses of over 600 major companies.
- How to draft personal petitions covering everything from tenant-landlord disputes to workman’s compensation.
- What steps to take to avoid litigation.
My own tips for writing a successful complaint letter are:
- Remove any vulgar or profane words.
- Don’t make sweeping accusations: “Your agency is a waste.”
- Stick to facts you know can be proved: The who, what, when, where, how and why of reporting.
- Don’t attribute motives to people you’ve had problems with. You don’t know why someone did what he did.
- Cite the names and titles of any airline employees who (1) can support your claim, or (2) were witnesses to the incident.
- Show how the failure of the official to address your problem reflects badly on the company: “This is not the level of service your ads would lead potential customers to expect.”
- Be reasonable and realistic in what you ask for.
- If you want reimbursement for expenses you had to make (such as hotel lodgings) owing to the airline’s fault, then provide copies of receipts.
- Emphasize your desire to resolve the complaint amicably and privately within the company.
- If necessary, note any regulatory agencies that can make life rough for the company if your complaint isn’t resolved.
- Cite the applicable law(s) under which it can be sued: “According to the Passenger Bill of Rights….”
- Make certain the airline knows you expect a reply within a certain length of time: “I would appreciate your response within the next 10 business days.” Otherwise they’ll feel they can afford to ignore your complaint.
- If there is a specific action the airline can take to redress your complaint, be sure to mention it. (You can be so angry when making a complaint that you forget to say what you want the company to do to resolve it.)
Of course, your overture(s) may be ignored. Or you might feel the airline has not made a good-faith effort to compensate you.
In either case, you have two more courses of action to pursue.
- Threatening the airlines with bad publicity; and
- Threatening the airlines with a private lawsuit.
Thanks to the Internet, it’s far easier to spread the word about companies that mistreat their customers.
“Fly the Friendly Skies” is no longer n advertising slogan (even at United Airlines, which popularized it). But airlines spend millions of dollars a year on selling just that image of themselves.
So anything that threatens to throw mud on that image is guaranteed to set off alarm-bells at corporate headquarters. Especially if that mud is well-deserved.
An easy way to avenge airline mistreatment is to make full use of a wide array of consumer-opinion websites.
It’s important to check out each website carefully to increase your chances of having your complaint resolved.
- Most websites simply offer a forum to vent your spleen.
- Others promise to take various forms of action on your behalf–such as directing your complaint to the airline or a government agency.
- Others offer to refer your complaint to an attorney.
- Many of these are free.
- Others charge a nominal fee (such as $5) for posting your complaint.
- Some complaint websites are run by the Federal Government–such as those of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Some are run by individual states–such as the Office of the California Attorney General.
- The major airlines provide “file a complaint” pages on their websites.
- What you say online can hurt you.
- Accuse someone of criminal or shameful behavior, and you can be sued for libel.
- Threaten someone with exposure or financial ruin and you can be privately sued and/or criminally prosecuted for extortion.
And once you click on the “Send” button, there’s no recalling your email.